"My father's death was instantaneous, after an accident, and came as a complete shock," says Jacek Basista, 48. "He was 69, in good health, active and coping very well with living on his own since my mother's death nine months before. When my mother died in 1988, after a chronic illness with complications, I felt it was more as if she'd just faded away. You're never completely prepared for the finality of it, and yet in some respects there was a sense of relief as it had been a great burden on us.

"Both my parents were Polish immigrants, so not only was there a deeply felt loss when they died, but there was also a feeling of isolation and an end to the continuity of first-hand cultural traditions."

As the eldest of three siblings, Jacek took care of the administrative work following his father's death, and was unprepared for the amount of work involved in dealing with the estate. "He died intestate, which was out of character as he was so organised in life. We came to the conclusion that he would have eventually got around to making a will, possibly when he felt closer to death.

"For obvious reasons, the shock of a sudden death is much harder to come to terms with. But to make matters worse, I had to sift through a lifetime's accumulation of address books, and to decipher who I should and should not ring - several were strangers with a poor command of English. This was hard in itself, and unwittingly I found myself having to pacify and comfort these frail, elderly people who themselves were then in shock and confused, as my father's death had come so soon after my mother's.

"The actual funeral arrangements were easy enough; I just rang the Co- op and asked for the same package as we'd had nine months before. On a lighter note, I was able to cancel my mother's headstone, which had just been commissioned by my father. None of us had been happy with the style he'd chosen. So not only could my father's name be added to it, but we were now able to choose a design we liked. This was a new experience; I could take control without having a heated discussion with my father. Dealing with all the intricacies of the estate was riddled with complications. I felt that death was somehow novel to all the people I had to deal with. Sorting out probate, tax and endless petty insurance policies meant there were relentless daily reminders in the post. It was a protracted and painful business of constantly having to remind people or to tell them about my parents' deaths. I found it ageing, maturing and draining.

"I was, however, able to put all my dealings with death to practical use when a friend became an instant orphan after both his parents were killed in a car crash. I was now in a position to offer advice on the administrative aspects.

"I have found becoming an orphan in middle age more acute because this was the time I became a parent (our son was three when my father died). Neither of my parents will ever know my daughter, who was born two years later and, rather poignantly, both my children have missed out on having grandparents as I did. I feel a sense of loss and sadness, on both a practical and an emotional level, especially when I see children out with their grandparents. I feel both my parents and my children were sold short."